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Transcript: Michael Morell, Jung Pak, David Sanger on "Face the Nation," March 11, 2018

Will talks with North Korea actually happen?
Will talks with North Korea actually happen? 11:19

President Trump's decision to accept an invitation to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un caught the international community by surprise this week. The president's willingness to meet personally with Un could mark a historic milestone in relations with the reclusive regime, but such high-level negotiations also carry a great deal of risk.

A panel of experts joined us to discuss the potential meeting: Michael Morell, former acting director of the CIA and a CBS News senior national security contributor; Dr. Jung Pak, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution; and David Sanger of the New York Times,  who was covered North Korea and national security for years.

The following is a transcript of the discussion with Morell, Pak and Sanger that aired Sunday, March 11, 2018, on "Face the Nation."  

MARGARET BRENNAN: We're joined now by a panel of national security experts. Michael Morell is a former deputy CIA director and CBS News Senior National Security Contributor. Jung Pak is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute. She's worked at the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. And David Sanger is national security correspondent for The New York Times and a CNN contributor. Mike what did you make of director Pompeo's justification of these talks?

MIKE MORELL:  I thought it was very interesting that both the director and Senator Gardner made it absolutely clear that the United States feels that we are coming to this from a position of strength because the sanctions have been tough. Right. They have hurt. But what's interesting is I think that Kim Jong-un also feels that he's coming to this from a position of strength. He has nuclear weapons. He's demonstrated an ICBM capability. He hasn't demonstrated that he can put them together yet. But he also feels he's coming at this from a position of strength sitting down with him as an equal. So-so I think that says something about expectations on both sides and whether they can be met or not.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You think this is a reward before anything's been given up?

MIKE MORELL: So I think that that that North Korea in general and Kim Jong in particular put a very high value on being seen as meeting with the president of the United States. It gives him legitimacy both at home and abroad. It is very important to him. He's gotten-- he will get that if this happens. He's only given a short term freeze in missile and nuclear tests. Right. I think we could have gotten more for what he really wanted here.

MARGARET BRENNAN: OK. Well we need to take a very short break. We have a lot more to talk about with all of you. So stay with us.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to "Face the Nation." I'm Margaret Brennan and we are back with our panel of national security experts Michael Morell CBS News senior national security contributor, Jung Pak is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, and David Sanger, Sanger of course is a national security correspondent for the New York Times. Jung, I want to start with you. Do you think these talks will actually happen? North Korea's been silent since President Trump accepted the invitation.

JUNG PAK: Right. I think that's an excellent point is that we haven't heard anything from North Korea that these talks have actually been offered or that any concessions or so-called concessions have been offered. All of this is coming secondhand from the South Koreans who have an interest in making sure that the North Korea and U.S. talks happen. So that said North Korea is keeping mum and I'm not surprised about that given that gives them maximum flexibility on their next moves. And I'm sure that Kim is monitoring all the discussions and debate going on in Washington about whether or whether President Trump should happen have accepted this offer.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You think this was a bluff possibly?

JUNG PAK: I don't. I don't know that it was a bluff but I can I can see Kim Jong-un dangling the possibility of or of its willingness to meet with the president, but then being surprised. So I wouldn't be surprised if- if we see some policy dysfunction from North Korea or a delayed reaction or response from North Korea as a result.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And David you've covered this before. It's not the first time an American president has been issued an invitation to Pyongyang or to meet with North Korean leader it is the first time that we know of that they said yes, though.

DAVID SANGER: That's right. Well that's why I think it was so interesting when Director Pompeo said that President Trump had already accomplished more than any past president. And I think on this the director with all due respect was probably just wrong. President Clinton reached an agreement in 1994 that lasted for about six years but suspended all of their production of nuclear material. The president was offered -- President Clinton was offered a chance to go to North Korea to talk about missiles and in the end he sent Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. That deal fell apart. President Bush had two different sets of agreements with the North Koreans. Both of those worked for a while but then also fell apart.  So it's a little early for a victory lap here but I do think that the director said a very interesting barrier for President Trump today when he said this really has to be a response to your question, stronger than the Iran deal and the Iran deal -- let's remember what happened. The Iranians -

MARGARET BRENNAN: He was a very big critic of that deal.

DAVID SANGER: He was a very big critic of the deal. The president's been a big critic of that deal. The Iranians gave up 97 percent of their nuclear material. They stopped running and dismantled some of their nuclear facilities there a lot of reasons to be critical of the fact that the agreement doesn't last forever begins that expires starting in 10 years and then pieces of it expire in 15 years. But the fact of the matter is if you can get that out of North Korea the president would be taking a very big victory lap.

MARGARET BRENNAN: That's a pretty high benchmark to set, Mike.

MIKE MORELL: Yeah. I think in terms of, Margaret, thinking about what the what the best outcomes would be here and the worst outcomes. I think the best outcome would be if they meet and they set agree on a set of principles by which negotiations would continue at a lower level.

MARGARET BRENNAN: That was Secretary of State Tillerson's proposal.

MIKE MORELL: Exactly. I think that is the best outcome. The worst outcome, there's two of them, right? One of the worst outcomes is a breakdown. Is that the meeting doesn't go well and there's sniping at each other afterwards. Because where do you go from there. Right that's that's the danger here. The other the other worst outcome is if we take the pressure off in some way that if we give some sort of sanctions relief for something not very significant. Right. Those are the two worst outcomes.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Jung, One of the criticisms is that you do one of these presidential summits at the end not the beginning of a negotiation but then I've spoken to officials who said look Kim Jong Un is the only person worth negotiating with in North Korea because he's an absolute dictator. So it's a unique policy. But is it the wrong approach?

JUNG PAK: Yeah. So I'll leave it up to the experts on the policy makers on the policy but I think that because President Trump has already said yes to this meeting. If it happens this meeting is too big to fail. And I see multiple dimensions of risk is if one if Kim Jong-un and  Donald Trump don't get along. You heard Director Pompeo say, say that Donald Trump wants to resolve this issue. Michael Morell I think has correctly identified Kim Jong-un's confidence. So if you have two confident leaders coming to the table demanding things of each other they're not going to get along.  But the other side is that if they do get along and somehow Donald Trump, Mr. Trump is -- thinks that he's getting a win from Kim Jong-un and that we have this convergence of a U.S. president who is suspicious of alliances in general that he might be willing to trade away the alliance for some sort of win for the United States such as no ICBMs for example. So there, there are ways of different ways of risk but I think it's all in our interest for this meeting to succeed.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The ranks of the State Department are thin right now that's well known. So who should be leading the negotiations here?

JUNG PAK: I think it has to be somebody if it's not if this person doesn't already, isn't already in position, it has to be a special envoy with the, with the explicit confidence of the White House and the president himself to either run the advance team to make sure that that Kim Jong-un actually said what he is reported to have said and -

MARGARET BRENNAN: Because this is all secondhand through the South Koreans at this point.

JUNG PAK: And to manage the process after the fact after the summit if it happens.

MARGARET BRENNAN: David, this is all through the South Korean telling of what happened during this dinner for our dinner in Pyongyang last week. I mean that's -- what certainly struck me as unusual for a foreign official make this announcement of the president's schedule. How do you sort of digest what seems to be a decision without a policy process?

DAVID SANGER: Well first of all that wouldn't be the first time in the Trump administration that we saw that happen. What you might have expected is that President Trump would have heard this, said let's go back and confirm this. Do some of the back channel work that Secretary Tillerson has said he has developed with the North Koreans to confirm that the North Koreans are offering exactly what the South Koreans said they were offering and then try to figure out the modality in which you do this. I think if you looked at the photographs that were taken in the Oval Office when the president was meeting with a South Korean delegation, it seemed to me that when he said he would go ahead and do this he was surprising his secretary of defense and his national security adviser.


DAVID SANGER: Yes, pretty clearly --

MARGARET BRENNAN: He accepted on the spot.

DAVID SANGER: He certainly surprised his secretary of state who was traveling in Africa at the time. That gets you to the next big question on this which is has the president thought very much about what the United States is willing to give up in these negotiations because if we've learned anything from them and, Margaret, you and I covered the Iran negotiations for a long time there's a lot the U.S. is going to have to go give here, if Kim Jong Un is actually willing to denuclearize. That may be worth a lot. But we also know that the North Koreans have made it very clear they never planned to denuclearize. And what they do plan to do what they say is to be regarded as a nuclear power. So we have to think hard, would we be willing to pull all of our troops out of South Korea? Would we be willing to stop all of the exercises that have gone on over the-- over the years? That could get at this erosion of the of the alliance that everybody's so worried about.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So the South Koreans you would say might need to be in the room. The Japanese do they need to be in the room? Can this be just directed U.S. and North Korea?

MIKE MORELL: Do I think the negotiations, right, should include the South Koreans, the Japanese, the Chinese, the Russians, right, they all need to be part of this. It's very, very important to keep our alliance structure together the South Koreans and the Japanese not only because of North Korea but because of China as well. I mean, here we have Japan, right, who got slapped twice this week on aluminum and steel once and then on being surprised on, on this meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un. That is an extraordinarily important relationship. It has to be managed. It wasn't managed this week.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And the U.S. not only is hitting Japan with those tariffs but possibly South Korea. And there's a free trade deal discussion that's not really going very far right now either, Jung, I mean are there already cracks in this alliance.

JUNG PAK: I think alliance management is pretty difficult to do and I think given the national priorities of both the United States and with South Korea that there are bound to be cracks and fissures in the relationship. That said, it doesn't look good when we're dealing with the North Korea situation, and the president is talking about trade.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right we have to leave it there. But I'm sure we're going to be talking much more about this in the coming months particularly if we see that meeting in May.

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